HR chiefs slam claims that employers face ‘stagnating’ workforce

The suggestion by a leading pensions expert that employers are faced with a stagnating workforce of older staff unprepared for retirement has been criticised by HR chiefs.

At the launch of a report by Watson Wyatt last week, the firm’s senior pensions consultant Gary Smith predicted employers were on the verge of a wave of older employees unable to retire due to inadequate savings, forcing them to continue working.

“Employers are managing an individual who has probably peaked in terms of their productivity and their value to the employer, are just hanging around and – with age discrimination legislation in place – finding it extremely difficult to get them to leave the workforce,” Smith said.

He labelled the problem a “ticking timebomb” for HR directors, claiming they would be swamped with resource management and succession planning issues, and irate workers who hadn’t saved enough for retirement. “It will end up the employer’s responsibility, since the state is backing away from providing financial support to individuals, and who will employees blame when things don’t work out? I doubt it will be themselves,” Smith added.

His remarks were met with criticism from Gareth Williams, HR director at publishers Taylor & Francis Group. “It’s absolute nonsense,” he said. “You could take that to the absurd and say employers should take responsibility for how mortgages work. This is not a nanny state.”

Bronwen Philpott, HR director at Monarch Airlines, echoed his views: “I don’t accept the idea of stagnation. If you’re challenging and motivating people properly, then age should make no difference,” she said.

But some agreed that HR must step in for staff who struggle to make the right choices about their pension. “Employers need to take back control, and put more effort into teaching their staff,” said David Fairhurst, chief people officer at McDonalds. “This also applies to younger workers, where it’s the employer’s responsibility to be somewhat parental.”

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